Beyond the Archive Door: Prebends | Salisbury Cathedral

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Beyond the Archive Door: Prebends

In January I began a project to catalogue records in the Cathedral Archive which relate to prebends and prebendaries.  

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Beyond the Archive Door: Prebends

Posted By : Helen Sumping Friday 14th October 2016

In January I began a project to catalogue records in the Cathedral Archive which relate to prebends and prebendaries.


A prebend is an early ecclesiastical term which is unfamiliar to most people – it certainly was to me! It derives from the Medieval Latin word praebenda, which translates as an 'allowance.' In a church context, the word prebend means a stipend or the estate producing a stipend, which was given to canons to provide an income. These canons were known as prebendaries, and would be allocated a stall in the Cathedral with the name of their prebend on it. The image above shows some of the prebendal stalls at Salisbury, which are next to the Choir stalls in the central part of the Cathedral.


The Records

The surviving records date back to the 12 century, and relate to a large number of people and places. As a result, the project required a good deal of preparation. First, I needed to fully understand what prebends and prebendaries were, then build up knowledge about Salisbury Cathedral’s prebends, and last but by no means least, get a good understanding of Medieval Latin as most of the records were not in English. The latter was marginally aided by some rusty (Classical) Latin skills which have now significantly improved! As if this were not already quite daunting, the existing paper lists of these records were not always helpful (one example of a catalogue entry being ‘very miscellaneous papers, decayed and mutilated’). This in addition to some poor packaging (see the accompanying gallery) made for a pretty formidable task ahead!


A small number of the records had already been grouped according to prebend, and this proved a good basis on which to create the structure of the Prebend series of records (a series is a hierarchical level of description used when cataloguing archives). The remainder of the records had been itemised in scattered fashion, if at all, and many had been artificially grouped with unrelated records. (The reference numbers used in the old paper lists are always cited in the new catalogue so that the previous structure can be recreated if necessary.)


In addition to the main body of records which were to be catalogued according to prebend, there were also two additional groups: citation mandates (official summons), and records relating to a valuation of prebends carried out during the mid-17 century. The latter were particularly interesting, as they contained detailed descriptions of property belonging to the prebends, in addition to personal letters from various prebendaries about why they were unable to attend a Pentecostal Chapter meeting at which they were ordered to present a valuation of their prebend. An example is shown in the accompanying gallery, where you can also see other examples of the prebendal records. To view the gallery click here.


The Prebend section of the Archive Catalogue can now be downloaded here.